How many reboots is this?

Hi folks! Been a long time, I know. I am reminded of the cliché ‘you can’t fail as long as you never give up’ so technically even though I have not posted anything since March I’m still not giving up – and I’m going to give this another go. It’s been a long year with COVID and I also had a hernia which put me out of commission for a while and required surgery – but I’m back in business and ready to start focusing on some projects again!

This is just a short note to say hello and alert you to the next podcast episode coming out later today, along with a combined YOUTUBE video.

Hope you enjoy – and stay tuned for more to come as we close out 2020.

Sometimes I need to take my own advice!

Last night I had a nice evening. After seeing some friends, chatting around a campfire I came home and went to my workshop after dark. I was reflecting in silence, sitting down in my cozy chair I keep at the far end of the workshop, and I was thinking about how, recently, I’ve been somewhat of a Grumpy Gus! So last night I was trying to relax a bit and reset my mind-frame. I was trying to get myself back into a more grateful attitude and I was thinking about writing something. I wrote a bit and felt better. Today I came across this story I had written several years ago, and thought I would share it with you. It was published in the Inverness Oran and I may have put it on my Facebook page back then, but here it is anyway. I hope you enjoy! 

The Pursuit of Happiness

“If you want something, it will elude you. If you do not want something, you will get ten of it in the mail.” -Anna Quindlen

My mailbox has been relaxing its position for the better part of a year now. Its post has rocked the stones that support its base enough to allow it to recline as if it has nothing better to do than to sit there waiting for mail like a gluttonous monarch being fed bunches of grapes.

It was much to my delight then when the Canada Post survey of recent weeks seemed to leave my mailbox’s position unnoticed – or at least within acceptable tolerances. Ne’er was there a flag of green or orange or any other colour posted at the end of the lane to indicate any possible postal-related infraction.

Then, much to my dismay, along with envelopes and fliers and a credible certificate for a conceivable many millions of dollars (providing I respond in time along with, I’m sure, a few magazine subscriptions) there was a white piece of paper notifying me that my mailbox’s lackadaisical posture must come to an end. Indeed it should be moved ahead one foot as its current location at the precise corner where the lane intersects with the shoulder creates a hazard – or so they would have me believe.

The task of relocating my mailbox was not ignored, per se, just sent to the same pile as other relatively mundane projects like picking up my socks or watering the aloe plants on top of the television. Then, with alarm I received my second warning; my final warning. Move the mailbox… or else? When I was back inside later that day I picked up my socks. The aloe was next. Lots of time. It’s a desert plant.

So this Saturday past I was heading down Route 19 from Judique after filling up the gas tank at Wayne’s and I was off to Inverness for a meeting, a workshop in fact, of the Municipal Energy Committee, which I was very much looking forward to. I hadn’t checked my mail in a few days – the flag is more relaxed than the mailbox itself so much so as to be considered wholly unreliable – so at the end of my lane I slowed and pulled in, rolled down my window and reached for the mailbox door. Nothing. At least there were no more warnings.

 

I rolled up my window, looked behind to see if anything was coming, then steered myself back onto the highway and went nowhere. The wheels spun up front and I said to myself, “Not now!” I reversed a bit, then forward again. I was rocking the poor little Pontiac Pursuit and for an instant I believed I was free. It was like when you run into someone you haven’t seen in a long, long time and you know you should know their name and you’re about to say hello and you even remember what letter their names starts with but in the end all that comes out is “Hey… how are you?” I was that close to getting out – but the rocking of the car only put my back tire further down the edge of the ditch.

Lucky for me my father has a 4-wheel drive capable of pulling out my little orange coupe. Unlucky for me he wasn’t home when I called. So I walked – not that far, really, from the stuck automobile to my folk’s abode and borrowed his plow truck. Well, almost. The plow wouldn’t rise on the truck and when I pulled too hard on the switch the switch exploded in my hands in a fireworks of springs and clips all over the mats and on the driveway. Half an hour later I had finished reassembling the switch and found the faulty fuse that had bewildered me I was finally off to complete the tow.

A passerby stopped to help guide my car out of the ditch as I pulled with the truck and the third time I clipped on the tow rope it held without slipping off and the car made its way back onto the asphalt. By now I was completely late for the meeting in Inverness and I doubted whether or not to go. I drove my father’s truck back and parked it in his driveway then made my way back, on foot, to my car which was ready to make tracks again. On the walk back I decided to call my girlfriend just to fill her in on my adventurous morning and in response to her question about the state of the vehicle I told her matter-of-factly that there was no damage to the car at all. I mean, it was only some snow.

I decided to keep going. I had some other things to do that day along the way so I kept for Inverness. I might be late but at least I would be there for a part of it and would participate. I wasn’t in a rush. In fact I made a quick stop in Mabou on my way. Then as I headed up the hill, past the Freshmart, I heard an alarm and noticed, for the first time since I bought the car, the temperature light was blinking. I clicked through the settings of the digital display past the trip odometer and the gas mileage calculator to the coolant sensor. 140 degrees and I pulled off the road. I got out to check under the hood. The coolant tank was empty. I must be running low on coolant I thought. Strange – so sudden like that. I wheeled around and coasted to Archie’s Esso for a jug of coolant and some hot water.

The water poured out the bottom of the radiator as fast as I could pour it in. The tow rope! I busted my own radiator towing myself out of the ditch. I was in trouble here I thought. I wasn’t getting to Inverness that day. More importantly, how was I getting home? Either way the car was staying put, and so I figured it should be parked along with the others awaiting mechanical maintenance. I jumped in and turned the key. Nothing. Lots of battery power, but nothing. I slowly lowered my forehead to the steering wheel. You’ve got to be kidding me!

I pushed the car backwards into a proper parking spot imagining the cost of a new engine if indeed my little four-cylinder was seized. Would I find a new motor on kijiji? Maybe I’d be better off selling it for parts? I was starting to feel angry. Why did I even bother getting out of bed on a Saturday morning to go to this damn meeting in the first place? None of this would have happened if I just slept in!

Another call to fill in Laura on my continuing adventure led me to the realization that my mother was in Mabou that day working a Cursillo, a type of spiritual retreat, at the Renewal Centre. I could at least borrow her car to get home. I strolled the sidewalks, past the shops and through the slush, by the imposing, yet calming, church, and up the hill. I couldn’t help but feel I should have been taking that moment to reflect on my situation through another lens – perhaps one of gratitude, rather than anger or self-deprecation. I reminded myself of all the wonderful things I have in my life. I thought of how silly it was, in the grand scheme, to worry over large piece of metal and plastic and rubber that would never carry that same worry for me.

Then I did something I hardly do enough. I said a prayer. Not for anything in particular, but just to say thanks. Now, a moment of gratitude can strike someone without anything necessarily holy happening. Being thankful in and of itself, I believe, is at least a key, if not the doorway to living a happy life. But when I left the Renewal Centre in my mother’s car and decided on a whim to stop at the Esso and turn the key one more time, the engine roared to life and it sounded like nothing was wrong.

I still had a leak in my radiator, mind you. The metal didn’t repair itself or anything – but the engine wasn’t seized after all – and a major problem became a very minor one with only time and a proper attitude. In much the same way my earlier anger could have easily built upon itself, my thankfulness grew exponentially. I am truly grateful, if nothing else, than to have learned to give thanks.

But of course, the real root of the whole situation, the cause to the effects, and the means to the end of the story – is that if you get a letter from Canada Post telling you to move your mailbox, do it. You’ll be thankful you did.

 

Dwayne MacEachern

Judique

 

Tea Time in Cape Breton

The following is a letter I wrote to the Inverness Oran many years ago (I think – that or it was just a facebook note, or something). 

 

Tea Time in Cape Breton

 

We often hear politicians talking about the things they are doing to help spur the economy and create jobs, but do we ever take the time to ask what that really means? Do we ever take the time to reflect on what our local economy looks like and whether there might be other things we can do besides leaving it up to the politicians? In order to answer these questions let’s first imagine what our economy looks like. This works whether we are talking about the economy of one community, like Mabou or Whycocomagh, or if we talked about the whole of Inverness County as one economy, or of Cape Breton Island, or of Canada. For this example, just imagine we are talking about your own community wherever that may be.

 

Let’s pretend your community’s economy is a teacup. The tea itself is the money in the economy. Where does the tea come from? The tea comes from a variety of teapots, some big and some small. When people who live in your community go somewhere else to work, they are bringing tea back home with them in the form of their paychecks, like if I lived in Judique but worked in Port Hawkesbury. When people in your community make something for, or provide a service to, someone else from outside of your community, more tea gets poured in, like in the tourism industry. One of the biggest teapots out there though, is the government’s teapot. This big teapot pours in tea for Employment Insurance and Social Assistance, government jobs, and a variety of programs and services. It can even create jobs sometimes too. This is one of the things we hear politicians talking about all the time. They hold the teapot in front of us and promise to pour. But after years and years of pouring from all these teapots, it seems like there’s still not much tea in our teacup, and we’re thirsty! Where does it all go?

 

Once the tea is in the teacup it swirls around a little bit when people buy things from one another inside the community – but there are a bunch of holes in the bottom of the teacup and all that tea is leaking out and we haven’t had a chance to enjoy it! Why does the tea leak out? When we go outside of our community to buy something we are taking our tea with us and we’re spending it somewhere else – in effect, we are acting as the teapot for another community! If we are going back and forth between small communities like Margaree and Inverness and we’re exchanging tea with one another – well, in Cape Breton that’s the proper thing to do – but if we’re taking all our tea and handing it over to someone we don’t even know in another country – that tea is gone and I promise you they will not be coming to your community to give any tea to you! I hate to pick on companies like Wal-Mart but it’s the one best example of how tea leaks out of our teacups.

 

So the politicians are hearing about how little tea is left in the teacups and what is their solution almost every time? That’s right, we’ll pour more tea into the teacup – and for a little while the tea is swirling around almost to the brim – but inevitably, by the time we go to take a sip, it has receded back down – it’s leaked out again. We can’t buy everything we need or want from inside our communities. As far as I know there’s nobody in Port Hastings manufacturing televisions and nobody in Cheticamp building automobiles – but when there is something we can get locally and we buy it locally, we are plugging one of those holes in the bottom of the teacup. So how do we fix the problem – by pouring more tea or plugging some of the holes? Seems like a no-brainer doesn’t it? [Insert your own politician joke here]

 

Let’s imagine for a minute that we made an effort, as much as possible, to plug some more holes in the teacup. What if we bought the groceries we could get at the local store instead of the big chain store in another town? What if we bought our gas from the local service centre rather than a company-owned station someplace else? What if we gave someone we love a locally, handmade gift as a birthday present they will cherish for years instead of something made in China that will last a couple months? The more and more holes we can plug in the teacup, slowly but surely, the level of tea will rise until finally it is overflowing. Then and only then can we enjoy it. Then and only then will our economy grow (our teacup will, by necessity, get bigger).

 

If we want to do what’s best for ourselves and for the future of our communities we will start now, for those who haven’t already, to begin actively seeking out locally made items and to turn the car around and go back to the local shops instead of heading out for shopping. Nothing will change overnight but it is not only possible – it is the only way. We just witnessed the federal government pour a pile of tea on Halifax in the form of the shipbuilding contract. Good for them. But to sit idly by and hope for something similar, for a politician to wave a teapot in our face, is thinking big in a very small way, when what we really must do to create the kind of local economy we need to give young people a choice for their futures, is to start thinking small in a really big way. And truth-be-told, I don’t mean to pick on the politicians. They’ve just been in the business of pouring tea for so long they’ve forgotten how to fix a teacup.

We’re Cape Bretoners. It’s time we started acting like it by sharing our tea with one another instead of giving it all away to people somewhere else we are never even going to meet who will never even thank us for it. Share your tea with a neighbour: buy local!

 

Dwayne MacEachern

Judique

Adapted from “The Leaky Bucket Economic Analysis Tool” developed by Gord Cunningham at the Coady International Institute

No Time to Type

Well this idea was a massive failure! OK, well no not really, but I don’t have time to sit down and type out my thoughts on a regular basis – certainly not often enough to keep an interested audience.

But have no fear, I’m not giving up! And I will likely, from time to time, keep posting written blog posts.

The big news, however, is that instead I’ve decided to concentrate on creating a podcast. As I will explain in the first episode, I have a lot of potentially productive time every day as I drive back and forth to my job. I’m in my car for 1.5-2 hours every day (at least 4, if not 5, days per week). That’s a lot of time that can be put to good use.

So I’m happy to announce the Community From Within Economic Development Podcast!

I’ll post a link to every ep on this site once uploaded (once I figure out a platform and the audio editing and all that jazz). I recorded the first episode yesterday, actually, as I drove home from work, and hope to upload it by the first of next week, if not sooner.

Thanks for checking this out, and hope you will check out the podcast! (Once I upload it)

Slainte!

-dwCFW-pod logo

Monkey Learn, Monkey Do… Eventually

My younger self would probably be very disappointed in me today. There I was with all that ambition and community spirit and I honestly could not believe how any individual, in the face of the economic challenges we faced, could not be involved, fully and completely.

I used to make posters for community meetings of our local development group, put them up around the village, and then sit there as the time for the meeting to begin approached and wonder how it was hardly anyone would show up other than those few of us on the board, and a handful of others. I would make posters painting a bleak picture of the future. I would make humorous posters trying to make jokes or puns related to economics. I was stupefied in trying to figure out why people did not seem to take any interest in their own community; in their own prosperity.

I remember seeing all the cars at the church for mass and thinking to myself ‘here are all these people more concerned with their afterlife than their current one!’

I was angry. I was frustrated. I was giving everything of myself, and for what?

I studied economic development at university. I took courses in Asset Based Community Development. I read books on the cooperative movement and community social enterprises. I didn’t know what exactly had to be done but goddamnit I knew I couldn’t do it alone!

I’m no longer involved directly with any community groups. I haven’t been for a few years now. I don’t think I would have the time right now even if I wanted to.

Back then,  around 2002/2003 when I first got involved, I was in university, and later, after graduating, I was severely underemployed. It would also help to mention I was out of high school for six years before I made the decision to go to university, and I didn’t make any fortunes then either.

I was young and idealistic, certainly, but more importantly, I was single (no family obligations) and either living with my parents, or later, at my grandparents’ old trailer (no rent). The fact was that I had a LOT of free time on my hands that enabled me to be involved. I made a huge mistake in thinking that a lack of involvement in our community development organization meant a lack of caring in some way. I need to explain this further:

Of course, in my community there were several community groups of which all had many volunteers who cared passionately for what they did. We had the Community Centre, Volunteer Fire Dept, and Recreation Association, to name just a few. The group I was part of, however, was meant to be an overarching umbrella group for the whole community – a sort of village council, if you will, not to decide on bylaws or anything, but to work on improvements that would benefit everyone, and hence, all the other organizations.

I also did not understand the importance of family life until it hit me. I might not have anything on my calendar every second Tuesday evening when a certain group decides to meet, but my daughter wants me to read books, so I’m reading her books. Got it?

I get it. I do. Now.

I didn’t back then. So my younger self might not like who I am today, but that’s ok, he was wrong. He was wrong to assume so many things. C’est la vie!

OK so I feel I’m a busy guy. Great. Where do I go from here? Well as mentioned before this blog is an attempt to rehash some of my past experiences, and I will continue to do that, of course, but I also want it to be a way forward. My wife and I have been working on some ideas and we hope to make a push to turn some of these ideas into reality in the very near future. I also feel compelled to begin something entirely different and directly focused on economic development in Cape Breton. I’ve been tossing some ideas around in my head the last few weeks and they seem to have rekindled a long-dead spark I felt back when I was about twelve years old.

It was 1991 and I went to a week-long summer camp program called Monkey Business at what was then called the University College of Cape Breton (now CBU). It was a program based on Business, Science & Technology and there were about thirty of us kids along with several ‘camp counselors’. The program was sponsored in part by Enterprise Cape Breton, a now defunct wing of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).

We were put into teams and the main project for the week was to invent a new product, build a prototype, create a business plan, and then we were to present the ideas to a panel of judges (local businesspeople). It was Dragon’s Den meets Mr. Dressup.

I am still proud to this day that our team won with our “invented” product which was a new type of ice cube tray that had rounded bottoms (made from cut-in-half ping pong balls) so you could push down one side and the other popped out. It also had a special ‘Nytrex’ coating (silver spray paint) to make the surface non-stick, a lid (piece of matching white plastic) to prevent spilling, and a freeze indicator to tell when ice was ready (piece of a neon green straw).

The whole week was basically about entrepreneurship and I remember leaving the camp excited for the future. “We can do it!” was the message we received. Just because we were in Cape Breton did not mean we were not capable of doing and achieving great things in our lives.

I know there are/were similar programs out there like Junior Achievers and Shad Valley, but seriously why isn’t this sort of thing a class in school – maybe not mandatory – but if nothing else we need to bring back Monkey Business!

I wanted to try to set something up a few years ago and contacted Enterprise Cape Breton (I wanted the documentation to have some foundation to build upon to create a new proposal) and I was told that since it was greater than seven years old all documentation would have been destroyed.

Shortly thereafter, (but not because of this reason), I was no longer involved in community development and my idea died out.

Every school should have a program like Monkey Business, except instead of inventing fake products and doing mock-ups of prototypes, they come up with real ideas and build prototypes that work.

I got sidetracked there. I didn’t mean to go off about Monkey Business like that, but that’s where the spark came from all those many years ago, and I feel like now, almost thirty years later, I’ve not really put it to any good use. I feel that if I die without turning that spark into a giant fireball of something positive, it’ll be one of my life’s biggest regrets.

So there’s this spark, just hanging out in my brain… and it collided with another idea or two I’ve been chewing on the last few weeks, and I’m thinking I may have something here to work with. I need to do a little more chewing, but I’m getting close to something.

You see the thing for me today is that I no longer think going to government (any level) for money is the way to go unless absolutely necessary – and I believe for non-profit groups it may be entirely necessary… but then again, I am not certain I fully believe community economic development is best done by a non-profit group. Maybe it is. But I want desperately to explore what a person is capable of in a private enterprise capacity, with a social responsibility aspect.

I’ll keep chewing on this idea and get back to you real soon!

 

Hiatus Finita

I have too many projects. I have too many lists of too many projects. Then I started this blog thinking with all the experiences I’ve had in the past and all the ideas I’ve thought about over the recent few years that certainly to complete at least one post per week would be absolutely and positively simple. If all else failed, I have old posts from my Facebook page and letters to the editor from years past I could easily add in to fill some space. Easy!

Then I let it go a week. Then two. Then it was a month. Then it’s 2019 all of a sudden and it’s almost been a year since I last posted something. It’s over a year since I started this thing… I had to renew the domain name otherwise risk losing it and all previous efforts would be for nothing.

So I had a choice – return and try again, or forget about it.

I renewed the domain. So here I am.

I have been thinking about this site quite a lot, if that means anything to you. I’ve been thinking a lot about the years I was involved with some local community development groups. I’ve been thinking about what that word community means these days to young people especially. I’ve been thinking about political systems and how ignorant we can be about how things really work. And I’ve also been thinking about how when we think we know how things work, it is quite likely we still don’t really know. We can never know what we don’t know, and there are lots of things happening in the world that we will never be told about.  Even as connected as we are, we are just as disconnected.

I thought, when I first decided to create this site, I would write about my experiences and just type and type until the answers I was seeking came to me, like some kind of divine revelation. The question, I believed, was about how to get people involved, and keep them engaged enough. How to get people to care about their communities enough to want to volunteer their valuable time and donate their hard-earned money. It was about, at the local level at least, what kind of political systems and policies would be most effective.

The rabbit hole, however, goes much deeper than that. The dichotomy between the good of the community and our individualism is both necessary and at times conflicting. How far do we go in being part of a community? Are we a collective of individuals or are we (moving toward becoming) a hive mind?

We’re products of evolution but are we still evolving? How does our ancestry – our ancient primordial ancestry – affect our ability to participate in modern society? Is technology a part of our evolution?

Side note. I remember many, many years ago it seemed, I was living on a farm in Thurso, Quebec, and a friend and I were tossing a Frisbee around and we were drinking beer and I was starting to feel it quite a bit, and at one point I dived for the Frisbee and missed and landed in some tall grass. When I got up I realized I had lost my glasses. I’m nearsighted, so our game was over and I searched and searched but couldn’t find them. I was pissed off and drunk and I remember getting upset and saying something to the effect that “if this was a couple thousand years ago I probably would’ve been eaten by a tiger by now.” In other words, I was a genetic oddball who didn’t deserve to be alive. I may have actually been crying at one point. Alcohol is a depressant after all!

But seriously, we’re getting to the point where wearable tech – or even implantable tech – may become commonplace within our lifetimes. Medical breakthroughs at the genetic level are becoming reality. At what point does simple tool-making and medical knowledge grow to become not just a product of our evolution but a factor of it?

If we have the knowledge at our fingertips – or faster than that, accessible by just thinking about it via an implant connected to the hive mind of the internet – what use are other people to us?

I’m being a little facetious, of course. We need family. We need friends. We long for community. But again, what does that look like? What will it look like fifty years from now?

Are we meant to be living in a world of several billion people? Are we meant to be living in groups of more than a few hundred? Are we meant to specialize beyond hammering iron and grinding wheat and spinning flax? I mean, when someone smears feces on a canvas and calls it art, are we really evolving as a species? Maybe we can go too far! Maybe the nature of humans is that we have, and we always will, push things to their limit.

I’m torn between two precious worlds:

The past, where things were hand-made, and of superior quality, and lasted for a long time, and could be fixed and parts easily made and replaced. Where knowledge was passed from generation to generation. Where vocal conversation between two or more people was not so much an art form as but an involuntary, autonomic function of our daily lives.

And the Future, where human syndromes of poverty, disease and war are eliminated by technologies and political systems that benefit all of us, and all the Earth, and beyond. I’m a Roddenberry fan, if you hadn’t guessed, and I look at that vision of the future as an ideal to aspire to.

The challenge is, of course, the present. Today is as disposable to us, it seems, as almost every cheaply made item we lay our hands on, because, we believe, tomorrow will come.

How much longer can we go on expecting it will? For some of us, tomorrow won’t, and we just don’t know it yet.

Wow, this got kind of dark all of a sudden! Didn’t mean that. I’m usually quite hopeful and optimistic. The future I want is just like that Star Trek-y one in many ways, but lacking a replicator I’m quite content building things with my hands, cooking food we grew ourselves and wearing a sweater my wife knit herself.

I don’t know if any of this made any sense at all, but hey, I’ve been on hiatus for almost a year from this! I’ll get more focused as I dig back into it. I just needed to sit down and write again finally.

Live long and prosper!

-dw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baloney

So, it’s Sunday afternoon, raining slightly outside, and I started this blog last week and need to post something today or else this idea of mine will go absolutely nowhere. I mentioned last week all the previous letters and notes I’ve written, so I could easily just post an old letter to the editor I may have sent to a local paper at one point, or post one of my many old Facebook notes relating to the subject, but here I am standing over the woodstove in the kitchen frying up some bologna and, all of a sudden, I’m thinking about my time in Botswana, back in 2005.

I said last week I’d like to talk about when I was a child and how I was witness to the efforts of my own parents as volunteers, whether with the Home & School Association or local Kinsmen Club, and I certainly will, but please note it seems this blog of mine may not precisely follow any sort of chronological order. It reminds me of the first time I kept a journal and I made a point of picking any random page every time I made an entry until it was full.

In 2005 I was very lucky to be sent to Botswana on a Canada Corps internship through Xtending Hope, a partnership between the Town of Antigonish, ST. FX University and the Coady International Institute. It was set up in response to Stephen Lewis’ call for action to assist African nations hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Xtending Hope partnered with organizations in the two nations hardest hit at the time, Rwanda and Botswana. I applied for an internship (one of two; one to each country), which was 14 or 15 weeks, and was sent to Francistown, a township in the northeast of Botswana close to the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo. A good friend from university was sent to Rwanda.

Prior to this, however, we were off to Ottawa, for three days at the Centre for Intercultural Learning, or something like that, to learn about how to communicate effectively and respectfully in a new culture, how to recognize culture shock, both going to a new place, and returning home, and a lot of discussion about icebergs (there’s always more under the surface). I found this training session very helpful and of course we were there with about twenty others from across Canada who were being sent to various places around the world. It made the prospect of being alone in the middle of southern Africa a lot more bearable.

Xtending Hope was also sending a nurse from the local hospital who wanted to volunteer in Botswana, and she spent the three and a half months at a hospice outside Gaborone, Botswana’s capital city. Traveling together was, again, beneficial to me, as I didn’t have to feel alone on the journey. I remember vividly our twelve-hour stopover in London on the way when we took the tube downtown and found ourselves in Piccadilly Circus, and we ate Fish & Chips in a little pub on one of the side streets. I never sleep on planes so I was up all that night, all day in London, and then again for the flight to Johannesburg, and then from there to Gaborone. When we were picked up at the airport I was a complete zombie.

The next day, however, I was feeling excitement and trepidation as I boarded the bus for Francistown. It was a four-hour journey, and I was told I would be met by the people with whom I would be staying with, a family originally from Zimbabwe, a man who worked in refrigeration and air conditioning, and his wife who was a school teacher, and their two children. It was a long bus ride, perhaps the longest of my life. For the first time since learning I was going to Francistown by myself I now felt all alone. What really sucked was that I made sure to drink a lot of water and I had my Nalgene bottle with me, of course (they were all the rage at the time) and about thirty minutes into the journey I remember turning back to look for the washroom and discovering there was no washroom on this bus. There were numerous stops along the way but only at the halfway point, in Mahalapye, could you get off the bus to go find the washrooms. So I made sure not to drink a bloody drop of anything any time I had to take a bus ride in Botswana after that!

This could turn into a book if I keep going like this, so I’ll just say that I will indeed come back to a variety of points about my time in Botswana that I’d like to talk about. For example, I absolutely fell in love with my adoptive family and their children and I don’t think I’ve ever felt as peaceful in my life as I did living with them, praying with them, and laughing with them. I also arrogantly thought I was handling the transition into this new culture better than I really was, and I fell into a deep despair and found comfort in alcohol and by withdrawing into myself. And when it came to trying to make a difference (that’s what I was there for wasn’t I?) I became profoundly frustrated and angry, knowing little then about how naïve I really was.

What I wanted to talk about today was community, and how in this little nondescript concrete brick building, for a short time I became part of a community there called Kgotla ya Balekane (KYB). KYB was an adult recreation centre (fitness centre) for people living with or dealing with HIV/AIDS. In order to be a member you did not need to have HIV/AIDS but they required you get tested. The idea was to promote testing and reduce the stigma around testing. When I arrived the gym had one working exercise bicycle, some free-weights, and a number of workout machines, bikes and treadmills that were inoperable. The building was clean but bare. It had a manager, who viewed my arrival as an opportunity for him to take a vacation, and there were four members who dropped by almost every day.

I began by fixing two more of the bikes. The belts were broken so I bought two automotive belts from an auto shop and one of the members brought in some tools for me to use. The weight machines seemed in good condition but the cables were all snapped, so I bought some clothesline and started stringing them together again, and again another member helped me to hold the weights in place as I tightened the new cables. Then I tackled the treadmill. It just required a fuse, which was impossible to find but a member was able to take a household fuse of a close enough amperage and wire it into the circuit to get it going, and the track itself was torn, so I sewed it together with some thin wire (like snare wire). I also bought three large mirrors we hung them on the wall. Next thing you know the members were helping me tidy up a few things and rearrange the equipment, and voila… within a week we had a few new members coming in.

Almost weekly we were adding people and at one point the gym had people there almost all day long, young and old, men and women. What was funny was that no matter what day it was during the week, at the same time every day everybody stopped and went into the sitting room and turned on the television to watch an American soap opera. Every single person. I don’t remember if it was Days of Our Lives or Bold and the Beautiful, but I remember sitting down with my cup of rooibos and watching it daily with everybody else. And really getting into it too!

I was working out myself, feeling great, joining sometimes in the evening aerobics sessions that were led by one of the members. Their motivation became my own motivation, and for what I believed was a sad situation coming into the country I had a difficult time seeing anything but hopefulness and positivity. I didn’t know it at the time but I was about to crash hard as reality began to set in.

What I learned though is that all these people, from a variety of backgrounds and socioeconomic circumstances, they were able to come together and form a community that they truly cared about based on only one thing they all knew they had in common: they all had been tested for HIV. Nobody was required to disclose the results of their tests. For all anyone knew, nobody was HIV positive. For all anyone knew, everybody was. What I found thought-provoking was the fact that it didn’t matter. They were just a bunch of people wanting to improve their lives by becoming and remaining fit and healthy. I was privileged to bring my past experience as an auto mechanic and backyard tinkerer to the group to show that repairing the equipment was possible just by using readily available materials (a background in Asset-Based Community Development also helped) but it was that drive and positivity from the members that made it all happen.

While I eventually had difficulties adjusting, and we’ll get to that eventually, I also made it through those difficulties. Botswana is a fascinating country and what I think made things a lot easier for me was that since it was once a British colony most people speak English, and the towns and cities are built in the sort of familiar way I was used to, with such amenities as supermarkets almost exactly as you would find here at home (maybe better because you can buy warthog bacon and antelope chops right beside your ground beef and chicken breasts). And one day I was browsing the aisles and I came across a small sausage-like package labelled “Paloney”. Yes, with a P.

I picked up two of them, I found some yellow mustard and some bread and I almost raced back to the kitchen at KYB. I longed for that taste of something familiar. I was basically eating chicken and rice or chicken and millet two or three times a day and the thought of a little taste of home was bringing a tear to my eye. You know that feeling when you put something into your mouth and you expect one taste but it’s not that taste. Well, Paloney, or at least the Paloney I bought that day, was nothing at all like I was expecting. So I went back and bought some chicken and rice. And that’s how I managed to start reflecting on my time in Bots today while frying up some ‘paloney’ for breakfast.

The Beginning and The End

Welcome to Community From Within, my new blog which will outline my personal journey in the realm of community development based in a small (tiny) village on the west coast of Cape Breton Island, Canada, but also including experiences across our county and province and internationally.

This site is for anyone interested in community economic development, community organizing, asset-based community development, rural development, international development, local and regional politics and so forth. My goal is to provide you with a framework with which to envision your own part in the development of your own community, however you may define that. I do not at all pretend to have all the answers and indeed, you may follow along and be left with more questions than when you arrived here.

In my possession are pages upon pages of notes, letters, emails, and other tidbits that I have amassed over the last twenty-five years or more and this site will be a repository for many of them as I begin to organize and edit and augment the ones I hope you will find most useful.  My hope is to put them into some sort of coherent order to illustrate my own journey in the world of community development, from my upbringing as a child watching my parents volunteer, becoming involved with and then leading a number of organizations, to running in a federal election, and ultimately stepping away from any involvement whatsoever, whether from burnout and frustration or simply a lack of time, and finally being able to reflect on my beliefs about what community development is.

I begin this now without the concrete answer of what community development is or what it means. In fact one of the last times I was working independently on a major project I had a discussion with some development professionals about how the term itself was outdated and we needed a new term to describe what was happening today. I proffered my terms for a project under the heading Community Enhancement as a way of distinguishing myself from the pack. I was offered the job but declined in the end because by the time the tendering process was completed I had accepted another position with a large company that paid a lot more money and didn’t come with an end date (at least not one I knew about).

Therein lies of on the major facts of community development work that will play a major theme along this new road I am heading down today: in the vast majority of cases, if a job exists at all for someone with experience, community development work doesn’t pay big money. So is this type of work simply for the altruistic people of this world? Or perhaps it’s just for people who are chronically unemployed and liberal-minded?

All of this has been weighing on me for the last few years but very recently a good friend sent me some information for a job posting in the field of community development saying it was “right up my alley” and you know what? In many ways it was, but two things, I was not (and am not) looking for a new job, and also, if I were, this one paid less than half my current salary. I’d go bankrupt if I took that job!

Something that keeps nagging at me is whether community groups can really make a difference or does real community development come from individuals who have succeeded on their own and simply contribute to the success of the community by virtue of their individual success. What I am trying to get at is this – think about the lifelong, chronically underemployed volunteer with a community development association who has toiled and sweat through the trenches of board meetings and public forums and fundraising and grant writing and who usually ends up paying out of their own pocket to attend some big community development conference because their organization can’t afford it… and they go there to listen and to learn about all the great things happening elsewhere and the hope is to take those new ideas and methodologies back home and employ them in a meaningful way to create something – anything – that will lead to growth or positive change or progress (however you prefer to term it). What happens if an idea works and leads to some new jobs? Does this person get one? What happens to the organization if the person is now employed full time and doesn’t have time to volunteer like they used to? Is that why the person was involved all along? Is there an ethical dilemma here?

Now go back to the big conference with all the great ideas. Where do they come from? Is it really volunteers in non-profit organizations that are making the difference and spurring economic growth? Or individuals who run their own businesses?

I admit there are great examples on both sides, but my hypothesis is that the truth lies heavily on the idea that meaningful, long-lasting, positive, community economic development comes from individuals who have an idea and run with it unencumbered by the micro-bureaucracy of local community development groups.

I’ve been to a week-long gathering where one of the main themes was deep democracy and working through a problem until you reach complete consensus is certainly admirable, but I’ve also seen perfectly sensible ideas drawn and quartered on the floor of a public meeting because of the objections of an irrational few.

My hope would be to disprove this hypothesis and say that community development organizations really do make a difference, but as you will see, direct from my own experience, in my own hometown, our local community development organization has been an epic failure.

Full disclosure: I was a board member of the Judique & Area Development Association from its re-birth in 2002 right up until about 2014 when it went defunct. A part of this process is to analyze my own personal journey, bringing you along with me, to detect whether the failure of this group was perhaps my very own fault.

I’ve been that chronically underemployed, idealistic, motivated and optimistic, pusher of communally-philosophic methodology and practices, and I’ve cursed and sworn under my breath at the lack of support and opposition to my ideas, and cried myself to sleep too many times to count as I dreamed of making my community a better place for all. But then once I had an offer for a great job in an unrelated field, I jumped at it and for the most part, didn’t look back. So was I trying to make the world a better place for all? Or just for myself?

Again, I don’t know all the answers yet. That’s what this is about. I hope you’ll join me.

This is the beginning.

The end will be a completed volume on the subject, somewhat edited perhaps from what you may find on this blog, but certainly this project is a means to putting that volume of work together in a reasonable and logical fashion.

-Dwayne MacEachern

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